Jorge Mendoza Yescas, the consul general of México in Phoenix, defended attending the first Mexican Independence Day celebration at the state Capitol, where Republican legislators have passed some of the nation’s harshest laws aimed at criminalizing immigrants.
“I don’t see anything anti-immigrant in Ducey,” Mendoza Yescas said.
Republicans like Mexican immigrants because they “go from home to work and then still go to church on Sundays. So what more do they want?” the consul said in an interview Thursday, Sept. 15 with Arizona Luminaria. It was the day of the Capitol celebration of fiestas patrias, which honors and represents people of Mexican heritage in Arizona who make up about 90% of the 2.21 million Latinos in the state.
Mendoza Yescas added a warning about how Mexicans should behave in Arizona: “The only thing I’ll tell them, let’s maintain that image with the authorities, because they are also our authority. Don’t be afraid.”
He pointed to his tours of central and northern Arizona, as an example of meeting conservative Trump-supporters who like Mexican immigrants for their value as laborers.
“I have spoken with more than 40 mayors, most of them from rural areas, most of them wearing boots and cowboy hats, and conservatives, and they have told me that they appreciate the Mexican workforce,” he said. “Although we can see them in a photo with Trump, they appreciate Mexican labor because they know that Mexicans come to work. No one has told me that they do not love Mexicans. On the contrary, they greatly appreciate the workforce.”
Mendoza Yescas addressed questions about whether Mexicans would feel represented at the Capitol celebration given Ducey’s public comments and actions on border and immigration policies.
“Anti-immigrant policy is one thing and anti-immigrant rhetoric is another thing,” he said.
The consul defended Ducey.
“I’m not seeing anti-immigrant policies from Ducey,” he said. “I’m seeing rumors, words, perhaps comments, certain speeches that can generate some discomfort with me, with the Mexican community. With the wall, for example, with so much insistence on the issue of the wall. But it’s a long way from saying it to doing it.”
Known for following former President Donald Trump’s line of militarizing borders, Ducey drew international media scrutiny when he deployed the National Guard, saying he had to secure the Arizona-México border and protect the country from the increase in immigrants and asylum-seekers.
Ducey sparked outrage in 2020 for doubling down on parts of SB 1070, joining Trump’s campaign against so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.
In response, migrant-rights advocates threatened an economic boycott of Ducey’s call for enshrining in the Arizona Constitution an existing ban on sanctuary cities that was based on language from SB 1070. The controversial measure — considered the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant policy when it was unveiled in 2010 — was coined the “show me your papers” law because it allowed police during stops to question the immigration status of people if they suspected that they were in the country illegally.
In early 2022, with the border wall serving as a backdrop, the governor announced in a Fox News interview the formation of the American Governors’ Border Strike Force, a partnership among Republican-led states to secure the border with México. The initiative was modeled after Ducey’s Arizona Border Strike Force, which received more than $82 million in state funding.
Recently, Ducey has drawn attention for busing asylum-seekers from the Arizona-México border to Washington, D.C. and for building a fence of railroad shipping containers to fill gaps on the border wall.
Despite policies targeting immigrants, Arizona Republicans often say they aren’t anti-immigrant, rather, they are anti-illegal immigration.
In the last presidential election both parties lobbied for the Latino vote. The Trump Victory, a campaign committee backed by the Republican National Committee, opened three Latinos for Trump offices in areas that historically voted for Democrats. Meanwhile, some longtime Arizona Latino Republicans denounced Trump for racist and xenophobic political rhetoric about Mexicans and immigrants.
Latinos in Arizona overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden, and were vital to his winning in a state that hadn’t elected a Democrat since 1996. Still, Republicans have continued to reach out to Latinos.
Four Republican legislators played a critical role in uniting with Democrats to send a measure to the November ballot for voters to decide whether undocumented high school graduates, who have lived in the state for at least two years, will be able to pay in-state tuition at universities and community colleges.
However, now Ducey is supporting the Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who this month at a rally in a Mesa church invoked Trump’s 2015 racist and xenophobic political rhetoric about Mexicans. She celebrated the audience for supporting Trump’s MAGA policies, and made the comments while touting a campaign promise to secure Arizona’s border with México.
“I’m gonna just repeat something President Trump said a long time ago and it got him in a lot of trouble,” Lake said. “They are bringing drugs. They are bringing crime, and they are rapists, and that’s who’s coming across our border. That’s a fact.”
Many people pointed to Trump’s fear-mongering as fuel for the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, one of the deadliest hate crimes in U.S. history against Latinos. The shooter left a manifesto with anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant sentiment.
To build bridges with the Latino community, Mendoza Yescas said he was attending several Mexican Independence Day celebrations and organizing the official consulate ceremony at the Capitol, a historic site that “represents the entire state of Arizona and that includes us Mexicans.”
“It sends a message that we Mexicans are part of the Arizona community and we have friends in politics as a community, and that includes Republicans,” he said.
Sen. Martín Quezada, the son of Mexican immigrants and a Democrat representing Glendale and parts of Phoenix, said Arizona Republicans’ policies have long targeted Mexican immigrants. He was not surprised by the Mexican consul’s position on Ducey.
“The consul has to play politics, he has to maintain relationships with the governor and work with him,” Quezada said in an interview with Arizona Luminaria at the Capitol Thursday. “I don’t have to do that. I can say that the governor is anti-immigrant.”
For Quezada it is important that Mexican culture be celebrated at the Capitol and across the state, but he said that more is required from Republican officials to show their respect for Mexicans, such as a change in laws to benefit them.
“I respect the consul and his opinion, but I am going to speak honestly, and the governor has a long way to go before not being anti-immigrant,” he said.
As for the classification of Mexicans’ worth being evaluated by their labor force in Arizona, Quezada said that he considers that statement “insulting.”
Immigrants “are more than just workers,” he said.
“I am Latino, my mother emigrated from México and I am a lawyer. We are lawyers, scientists, doctors, we are more than labor force,” he said. “We are more than workers who go from home to work and from home to church.”
Arizona Republican politicians are seen as anti-immigrant for many reasons, Quezada said, including for backing laws that dehumanize Mexicans and “because they only see us as workers and we deserve better treatment than that.”
Historic and political, the “Grito” at the Capitol
On Thursday, one day before the 212th anniversary of México’s independence, Mendoza Yescas stood next to outgoing Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers and other conservative and Democrat politicians at the consulate’s Capitol celebration.
Mendoza Yescas later tweeted a photo of Bowers and him shaking hands.
“In a diverse world, full of ideologies and millions of perspectives, it is normal for each individual to approach others who are similar-minded,” Mendoza Yescas wrote on Twitter. “There is, however, a small but strong group dedicated to building bridges. That’s the most important one. That’s where Mr. Bowers stands out.”
In 2019, Bowers drew outrage from migrant-rights groups for blocking a bill that would’ve allowed “dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and any graduate of Arizona high schools, to pay a reduced tuition rate. In 2021, Bowers faced an appeal from more than 120 business, faith and civic leaders urging him to stop stalling a hearing for a similar bill to support education opportunities for the estimated 2,000 undocumented immigrant students who graduated from Arizona high schools each year.
In August, Bowers lost his state senate bid after a backlash from Trump-supporters who condemned him for refusing to help Trump overturn the 2020 election results and for testifying before Congress about the efforts.
The celebration last Thursday at Arizona’s Capitol building, decorated with rose gardens and led by a GOP-controlled Legislature, included Mexican music, ballet folklórico dancers and a band and escort from Sonora.
Mendoza Yescas gave the famous “Grito de Dolores.”
The tradition, recognized for starting the revolutionary war for Mexican independence, of shouting the battle cry for freedom from centuries of Spanish rule is a moment of history and pride for Mexicans. It also falls at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month to celebrate the contributions of Latino/a/x people in the United States.
State Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez, one of the Democratic legislators at the event, thanked the consul on Twitter for organizing the celebration. Quiñonez also recognized the sacrifices of his own parents and the contributions of all Latinos who make the U.S. a stronger nation.
“México, I carry it in my heart every day,” Quiñonez said in an interview with Prensa Arizona. “So, for me, being here in Arizona, being here in the Capitol, celebrating our independence is something that gives me great pleasure, great pride. I hope that every Mexican, every person who is watching this, is also full of pride and also knows that: ‘Sí se puede.’”
Mexicans use the Capitol to protest
It was years ago, when the parents of Viridiana Hernández, founder of Phoenix-based Poder in Action, were at the Capitol. It was not to celebrate cultural holidays. It was to protest the “racist” law SB 1070 and against former Republican lawmaker Russell Pearce’s proposal to deny automatic citizenship to children born to undocumented parents in the U.S., she said.
“To protest, it is the only way that my parents, who are Mexican, who are immigrants, who are undocumented, have been to the Capitol,” said the Latina community leader.
“It is ridiculous for someone to say that Ducey is not anti-immigrant,” she said. “He has made many decisions that have impacted our communities, especially immigrants.”
The last thing the Republican governor did was support the gubernatorial campaign for Lake, “who is aligned with Trump and has said many extremely racist things,” Hernández said.
She said that these types of consular events at the Capitol support state politicians more than the immigrant community.
“I think the consul is very disconnected. He has been talking to the wrong people,” she said. “He should talk to the community to see how they are being affected by these policies. (SB) 1070 has not been undone, it is still there and so are other anti-immigrant laws.”
Hernández said that it is very comfortable for Republicans to classify immigrants as an important labor force, “but when it comes to voting, to making changes so that our lives improve, they have made policies that have harmed the lives of Mexicans and people of color.”
State Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, is also Mexican and said she’s pleased that México’s independence is being celebrated at the state Capitol.
“This is our Capitol, that is why the marches and protests are here, it is our duty to show up,” said the legislator.
“I do not want to respond to the consul,” said the chair of the Democratic Party in Arizona. But Terán did say that Ducey’s rhetoric creates polarization in Arizona.
“Instead of investing money in our communities, he invested half a billion dollars to create a circus on the border,” she said.
“Republicans in terms of rhetoric and legislation are anti-immigrant,” said Terán, who more than 10 years ago slept on the lawn of the Arizona Capitol as a young activist to protest against SB1070. “They do not invest the necessary resources in schools and housing for our communities.”
One party “for the people” and three “Gritos” of independence”
On the night of September 15, the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix held its official public celebration of the patriotic holiday at the Capitol, in a historic moment, where Mendoza Yescas gave the “Grito de Dolores.”
That same Thursday marked the first time that council members Betty Guardado and Carlos Garcia, both Mexican Democrats, organized a big community celebration outside Phoenix City Hall to commemorate México’s independence. Garcia told attendees during the celebration that he is proud to be the first México-born council member to hold office and represent Latinos and immigrants.
They invited the consul to give the “Grito” on the balcony of the Orpheum theater.
The consul gave a third “Grito” on Friday, Sept. 16, during a private reception at Phoenix City Hall. Mendoza Yescas received a commendation signed by Ducey that recognized the anniversary of Mexican Independence Day, encouraging residents to participate in celebrations and honor the cultural heritage.
“Arizona has a historic relationship with México, its states and communities,” the recognition stated. “Arizona and México continue to foster social, cultural, and economic ties.”
Republican Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Phoenix District 6, was a sponsor of the event, saying on his Twitter that it was an honor to host the consul.
“México is our largest trading partner and this relationship is vital to keeping costs low for Phoenix families,” DiCiccio said.
In México, it’s traditional to shout the battle cry just before midnight to honor the roots of the revolution.
On the morning of September 16, 1810, the Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave the historic “Grito de Dolores.” He rang the bells of his church and called the people of Dolores to rise up against the Spanish colonial rule in México.
“It is very important not only to keep that tradition alive, but to reinforce it and make it more important,” Mendoza Yescas said. “I am giving myself the task of not just giving one shout, but to give three or four in different parts of the Valley. The greater presence of this type, the greater awareness we will have of our traditions.”
Tired of there not being a community celebration where Mexican immigrants and descendants could openly celebrate Mexican Independence Day in Phoenix, council members Guardado and Garcia decided to organize one.
“We have a lot of people who can’t return to their country and it’s really important for us to be able to do a public event,” Guardado said. “To do something like this, the people can at least feel a small part of it.”
Guardado said she felt proud to lead a historic celebration for “the whole Mexican community.” They named it the “official Grito of the city of Phoenix.”
“Words blow away with the wind”
As for the celebration at the Capitol, Guardado said she understands it’s important for Mexican diplomats to build bridges, and that Republicans can indeed become friends “when and if they prove it.”
“Because words blow away with the wind, they can say that they love Latinos, but de lengua me como cinco (tacos),” she said in Spanish, using a Mexican idiom that refers to hearing a frequent lie. “I want to see actions, and they’ve never done anything for our people.”
For Guardado, what’s key is not dropping your guard so you can keep fighting to eradicate anti-immigrant practices that target Latinos.
“People should have the right not only to go to work, to home, to church,” she said. “They should have enough resources to be able to travel, to enjoy quality time with their families, good programs for their kids, and to be able to live that American dream that many Americans live.”
The council members organized the celebration to kick-off Hispanic Heritage Month, so that immigrants could feel a little closer to México and Arizonans can embrace the cultural heritage of Mexicans.
“García and I decided enough was enough. We are here for the people, we did an event for the people and that’s what we’re going to do from now on moving forward,” she said.
One cry or three cries. A celebration at the Capitol or at City Hall. What’s certain is that thousands of people danced to the rhythm of Mexican music. They savored traditional Mexican food and drink. They enjoyed ballet folklórico and they delighted in their cultural heritage.
In the end, they all cried out: ¡Viva México!
This story was originally published in Spanish. English translation by Dianna M. Náñez and John Washington.